People in a funeral procession holding a democracy sign

This image was originally posted to Flickr by Old White Truck at was reviewed on 10 December 2017 by FlickreviewR 2 and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-sa-2.0.

In the weeks following the one-year anniversary of the January 6 insurrection, there were countless editorials, think pieces and discussions in the media about whether or not American democracy was “dead.” From Fareed Zakaria on CNN to Ann Fisher on WOSU, news personalities and politicos alike tried to address the question, with answers ranging from “no, but it does need attention,” to “it’s basically on life support,” to “I don’t know how to answer that!” Strangely enough, no one offered a hearty “hell yeah, it’s dead,” which makes me think that no one really knows the answer. But this is understandable. After all, it must be hard for political commentators to admit that the American experiment –– once a robust representative democratic republic with grand ideals at its core –– is in fact, finally dead.

Yes, we here in the “pessimistic caucus” know better –– hell, many of us feel the republic’s been dead since the passage of The Patriot Act in the wake of September 11, 2001. Not to mention that it’s been hanging on for dear life ever since! Nothing in American politics has ever been the same since then and the 1990s seem like a distant fever dream (although it is a sexy fever dream, given all of our former president’s sexy sex scandals!) But seriously folks, politics in our country shifted for the worse after 9/11. Anti-war politicians and citizens were labeled as anti-American terrorist sympathizers. Rush Limbaugh and Fox News radicalized an already rabid base, while Karl Rove and President Bush threw red meat to the evangelicals with various state referendums on gay marriage in 2004, a recipe for division.

In the midst of this divided nation, a very symbolic figure appeared in 2005 with the same gusto of a bowling ball that’s been rolled down a lane too slowly, but we all have to watch it eventually hit the pins anyway.She was a woman named Terri Schiavoand for many of us pessimists, she remains the perfect metaphor (and mascot!) for our American democracy until this day. Schiavo was born on December 3, 1963 –– a little over a week after another tragedy that some people felt killed American democracy –– and entered an irreversible persistent vegetative state after suffering a major cardiac arrest in 1990. By 1998, it was clear she wasn’t going to recover from her unfortunate situation, so her husband Michael made the difficult decision to remove her feeding tube. But Terri’s parents weren’t having it.

What followed from 1998 until 2005 was an unnecessarily prolonged legal battle between Terri’s husband and her parents about whether Terri’s feeding tube should be removed or not. The court battles first started in The Schiavos’ home state of Florida (because, of course) before the ordeal caught the attention of their pro-life Republican statehouse, which passed emergency legislation and influenced then-Governor Jeb(!) Bush to step in –– thus “saving” Terri’s life whenever a judge would rule for her feeding tube to be removed. Eventually, the case became a national rallying cry for those in the pro-life, evangelical movement across the country, prompting the Republican-led U.S. Congress to pass a bill that then-President Bush signed at 1 a.m. to officially move the Schiavo case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Despite all of this –– after 14 appeals, five federal suits, two Bush brothers and a Rick Santorum in a pear tree –– a court order to remove Schiavo’s feeding tube was finally upheld by a judge and Terri’s parents were out of legal options. Despite the pressure from the political right on Jeb(!) to step in once more (which could have provoked a potential confrontation between different jurisdictions of Florida’s law enforcement) Governor Bush finally decided to obey the court order. Terri Schiavo died in a Florida hospice home on March 31, 2005, just a few months after the second Inauguration of President Bush and the suicide of author Hunter S. Thompson, two other tragedies that some people also feel killed American democracy. Thus, that which was always inevitable was eventually done.

Perhaps it’s no wonder that America again finds itself at the mercy of an illogical political ideology, fighting for something that they call “life,” when the very life they’re trying to save becomes more doomed whenever they try to save it. In the tragic case of Terri Schiavo and her feeding tube, these pro-life, evangelical Republicans eventually just accelerated the death of someone who was already pretty much dead anyway. Is it poetic justice? No, but it is more perfect symbolism for an American democracy that has been run amok by ideologues and now lies with a feeding tube firmly in its nose, probably for as long as people like Rick Santorum still have a podium to stand on… But how much longer will it last?